LATE THAT JANUARY afternoon, an ordinary young man in a new store suit and a pretty young woman wearing a dove-grey dress sat tightly holding hands and gazing with fixed intensity through the window of a dingy third-class compartment in the almost empty train labouring up the Rhondda Valley from Cardiff. All day long, after our wedding, my wife and I had travelled from Scotland, changing at Carlisle and Shrewsbury, and the final stage of our long journey to South Wales found us strung to a state of increasing tension at the prospects of beginning our life together in this strange, disfigured country.
Outside, a grey mist was swirling down between the black mountains which rose on either side, scarred by ore workings, blemished by great heaps of slag on which a few mangy sheep wandered in vain hope of pasture. No bush, no blade of grass was visible. The trees, seen in the fading light, were gaunt and stunted spectres. At a curve of the line the red glare of a foundry flashed into sight, illuminating a score of workmen stripped to the waist, their torsos straining, arms upraised to strike. Then the searing vision was swiftly lost behind the huddled top gear of a mine.
Darkness had fallen, emphasising the strangeness and remoteness of the scene when, some minutes later, the engine panted into Tregenny, the end township of the valley and the terminus of the line. We had arrived at last. Gripping our suitcase, I leaped from the train and helped my bride to alight.
At the station exit we paused, disappointed in our expectation